Apples to Apples (to Overenthusiastic Semanticists)

March 6, 2009

Somewhere along the line, I got it into my head that it would be really nifty to try and construct a fluid, dynamic model of subjective semantics around a bunch of games of Apples to Apples. (Apropos of nothing: why are there Jewish and Bible versions of this? That could be a fun socioling paper to write.) So, this evening when my housemates started up a game, I sat out and tried to record as much of it as I could. My data was full of holes because they didn’t feel like slowing down to tell me who submitted which card, but other than that, I did collect a decent amount of data for the first try.

I’ve yet to try and find any patterns or come up with any theories about this, and I think it would be helpful to play multiple games so I could get multiple entries for each noun card, and this would’ve been way easier to do if there was some electronic version so that the cards themselves were recorded automatically and I could focus more on transcribing the in-game banter (very relevant, had a noticable effect on the outcome!) for further analysis. I’d love to do a real big semantic and sociolinguistic project on Apples to Apples some time, because the game just lends itself so well to that sort of thing.

As to how I would go about analyzing these data, I’d have to say that my first approach would be to try and find situations (once we have about a million times as many data, anyways) where certain cards come up again and again, and check for any pattern. This might be something like finding the “trump cards,” which always seem to win the round no matter what adjective they’re being connected to (“Pond Scum” is just such a trump card in my house), or cards which will always win when the round is being judged by a certain person (according to Harry, that’s the main reason he picked “vampires” for “glorious”). It would also be interesting to see what category of noun tends to get matched with what category of adjective, and so forth. There’s a lot of work to be done on this, is my point, and I sincerely hope that I get a chance in my academic career to devote that much time and effort to the project.

Apples to Apples, March 5, with Raquel, Becca, Harry, Elizabeth, and Adam

round 1

Elizabeth judges; green card: “frazzled” (exhausted, frayed, worn)

psychics, Raquel

teachers, Harry

4th of July, Adam

Saturn, Becca

Harry judges; “unscrupulous”

skunks, Elizabeth

telemarketers, Becca

Mexico, Raquel

Eddie Murphy, Adam

Raquel judges; “calm” (peaceful, tranquil, placid)

machine guns,

Samuel L. Jackson, Becca

the Grand Canyon

electric eels

Becca judges; “miserable”


Tom Cruise

running a marathon, Elizabeth

scavenger hunts

Adam judges; “awkward”


Woody Allen, Elizabeth

getting a hug

Jacques Cousteau

Elizabeth judges; “philosophical” (thoughtful, contemplative, wise)

Meryl Streep, Adam

the Beatles, Raquel

pigs, Harry

Victorian England, Becca

Harry judges; “frightening”

Rosie O’Donnell, Becca

meatloaf, Raquel

bounty hunters, Elizabeth

online shopping, Adam

Raquel judges; “snappy”

whipped cream, Elizabeth

the Rolling Stones, Harry

olive oil, Becca

ginseng, Adam

Becca judges; “casual” (easygoing, blasé, nonchalant)

fresh-water pearls

funerals, Elizabeth

baked potatoes


Adam judges; “mischievous” (naughty, prankish, sly)

Girl Scouts, Becca

gila monsters

junk mail

oil spills

Elizabeth; “busy” (occupied, meddlesome, engrossed)

Lucille Ball

the Great Depression, Harry



Harry; “useless” (worthless, ineffective, unneeded)

Wheel of Fortune

the Grateful Dead


Nicholas Cage, Elizabeth

Raquel; “relaxing” (restful, calming, peaceful)

the Godfather, Elizabeth

board games

plane crashes

the Great Chicago Fire

Becca; “hilarious” (funny, witty, amusing)

Jackie Chan, Raquel

the Academy Awards


baked beans

Adam; “perfect” (faultless, consummate, exact)


Salvador Dali, Elizabeth

the Renaissance

East Coast

Elizabeth; “spunky” (perky, lively, spirited)

Jack the Ripper, Becca


state fairs


Harry; “popular” (well-liked, accepted, preferred)


the Far Left

video games

body piercing, Raquel

Raquel; “quiet”

bagpipes, Becca

the French Rivierra



Becca; “easy” (effortless, gentle, uncomplicated)


the 21st century

Julia Roberts, Harry


Adam; “violent”

watching football

David Letterman

push-ups, Raquel


Elizabeth; “powerful”

giant squid

golf-ball-sized hail, Harry

the electric chair

first man on the moon

Harry; “glorious” (magnificent, delightful, splendid)


vampires, Becca

Dolly Parton

the 1980s

Raquel; “fuzzy” (downy, furry, unclear)

Rosa Parks

Austin Powers


fuzz, Adam

Becca; “meek” (shy, mild, timid)

geishas, Elizabeth




Adam; “silly”

Bill Murray, Becca

Homer Simpson

paying bills

the Pyramids

[And here the game ends.]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: